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The Value Is in the Data
Many Sam's Club suppliers still don't understand how Electronic Product Code systems and standards enable companies to improve the way they do business.
Oct 13, 2008—I hosted a webinar last week explaining how to tag sellable units for Sam's Club (see RFID Journal to Host Webinar on Tagging Sellable Units). We had approximately 120 people on the call, who asked a lot of questions. One question stood out, however: "What information will I get back from Sam's Club when I tag, other than the fact that the product has reached the wholesaler?"
I had been explaining that if you go beyond a slap-and-ship approach to complying with EPC RFID-tagging requirements, you could use the data you get back to create some value. Many on the call seemed surprised to learn suppliers would receive more information than just a confirmation their goods arrived. I told them suppliers would get back quite a lot of valuable data about where and when tags were read, as well as the business step involved.
True, it's a challenge for Sam's Club and Wal-Mart to educate suppliers and the broader community regarding the value of the data without giving away their competitive advantage. RFID Journal faces a similar challenge, because many suppliers getting value won't speak about it since they don't want to give away their competitive advantage.
But Wal-Mart and other suppliers have shared enough information to convince me of the value of EPC RFID. I'm more convinced than ever that the standards EPCglobal has created for using EPC RFID data are enormously important. With the data standards, you don't just know a tag was read, you also know when and where that reading occurred, and the business process involved—as well as, potentially, the product's condition (it's current temperature, for instance). So you not only know your product arrived at the distribution center, but also when it was shipped to—and arrived at—a store.
More specifically, Wal-Mart suppliers know when a case moved from the back of the store to the storefront. Sam's Club, I believe, will provide data regarding which shelf on the sales floor a particular pallet is on. (For those who don't shop at Sam's, it contains large warehouse-like racks, with products available for replenishment stored on high shelves rather than in storerooms.)
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